Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver Continue Preparations for Pan American Games
July 18, 2007
By ANDY KATZ
HAVERFORD, Pa. -- You should have seen Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver smiling, almost giddy about getting their visa, passport and USA Basketball official photos taken Thursday at a suburban Philadelphia Marriott.
These two Washington State seniors couldn't have been more appreciative of the opportunity to try out for the Pan Am Games.
And then, to actually make the Pan Am Games team, to beat out 18 college players who didn't make the team, are you serious? For Low and Weaver -- two players you should remember because they'll be playing on a potential top-10 team this season -- this whole national recognition thing is almost too much.
They simply had no clue, no earthly idea that this was possible. Sure, both of them -- Low from Hawaii and Weaver from Wisconsin -- believed in Dick and Tony Bennett when the coaches sold them on going to Pullman to build a program. But they never had an inkling that they would be considered for a precious Pan Am spot to represent the United States or would be seniors on a preseason top-10 team.
'I wanted them to do this so badly. I wanted them to be able to expose themselves at a high level,' said Washington State coach Tony Bennett, the consensus national Coach of the Year last season. He led the once-forgotten Cougars to a 26-8 record (13-5 Pac-10) and a second-round berth in the NCAA Tournament in his first season after taking over for his father, Dick.
Bennett said that when he recruited Low and Weaver, one of the first photos they asked him about in his office is the one of Bennett on the 1991 Pan Am Games team with Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.
'They kept asking me, 'What was it like to play on that team?'' Bennett said. 'It's a great story. They've really developed from where they started. They were under the radar, and they really have developed. This will be a tremendous experience.'
Even though the Cougars played in the NCAA Tournament and have been a tough out for everyone in the Pac-10 the past two seasons, just being invited to the Pan Am trials was a major step for Low and Weaver. The two scanned the roster on Thursday, looking at some of the higher-profile names, and were almost giggly about being included.
'This is hard to believe, and it's an honor to be with guys that we had heard about,' Weaver said. 'It's neat. We kept up with these guys. ... It's pretty special.'
Remember, it's not like Low and Weaver are playing with Kobe or LeBron here. We're talking about D.J. White or Roy Hibbert, who wasn't that highly touted out of high school. So forgive these under-recruited players from a school that received hardly any pub prior to last season if they're still getting settled on their feet.
But Low and Weaver were selected for a reason -- they're winners, can play multiple guard positions and are quality teammates for a brief two-week stint when the only goal is to win the gold in Brazil.
'What this shows is that our team was successful last year, and with Coach Tony getting all that Coach of the Year stuff, it all helped us get mentioned, and people noticed,' Weaver said.
Let's realize that only two teams -- Washington State and Oregon -- had multiple players among the 14 players who made the Pan Am cut. Those aren't your traditional powers.
But, at least for next season, there's no reason to believe that the Cougars can't continue to be one of the nation's best.
The Cougars, who went to Australia and New Zealand last month, return four of five starters (senior Ivory Clark is gone). Robbie Cowgill and Daven Harmeling are back, and so are Aron Baynes and Taylor Rochestie, who give the Cougs plenty of interchangeable parts.
But how Washington State handles success likely will determine its season. Taking the humble attitude that Low and Weaver are exhibiting with Team USA is a must.
'It will be hard to duplicate,' Low said of last season. 'No one expected us to do it last year, and now everyone does.'
'We'll have to deal with it as we go,' Bennett said. 'If our experience and depth is legit, then we'll have a better team than last year and maybe win more games. I do expect them to play at a high level of basketball, but where that puts us no one knows. It's critical for our program to embrace the underdog mentality.'
That may be difficult if the Cougs continue to get national love, especially considering Wazzu is in arguably the toughest conference in the country next season with the possibility of 80 percent of the Pac-10 teams (sorry ASU and Oregon State) starting the season with the NCAA Tournament as a realistic goal.